Welcome to this week’s installment of Geek Girl Authority Indigenerd Wire, wherein we shine a spotlight on the indigenous people in pop culture. This column will feature the people, shows, movies, art and books that celebrate the progress of indigenous perspectives in mainstream pop culture.
“The public is conditioned to accept negative images of the Māori. The values and worth of Māori people are continually overlooked.”– Merata Mita in an interview with Helen Martin, The Listener, 14 October 1989, page 31
Road to Mainstream
Netflix is currently airing a documentary Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen. The film details the life of Māori filmmaker Merata Mita. Mita overcame racism, sexism, and poverty to become a pioneer in Indigenous film. Her message has always been for Indigenous people to tell their own stories. She is an inspiration for many aspiring and experienced Indigenous filmmakers today.
It’s this type of film that makes Netflix the place for Indigenous films. For a long time, Netflix was the only place you could find Indigenous films that were popular in Indian Country. These films are now available on other streaming services, but Netflix was the first. The streaming service also features series such as Frontier starring Jason Momoa. Recently they cast the first Indigenous actress to lead in a Netflix series. That show is Chambers and that actress is Sivan Alyra Rose.
Sivan Alyra Rose is San Carlos Apache. She played Sasha Yazzie, a young high school girl who receives a heart transplant from a non-native young lady. Some crazy things start happening to Sasha after her recovery. Sivan told Indian Country that she had the freedom to give input about her character. When given direction on how to relate to other characters, she wanted it to feel natural. Sivan often said ‘a brown girl would never do that in this situation’ to make the situation more authentic.
Netflix gave Sivan a voice to create her character in a manner that gave her more depth and authenticity. That seems to be the motivation for the streaming service’s latest venture. Netflix is partnering with three indigenous cultural organizations from Canada to develop more indigenous content. Netflix won’t have the rights to any projects that come out of these partnerships, but they will get an opportunity to buy the project for distribution. For now, they are simply funding the programs that will foster Indigenous, women and French-speaking creators.
The partnerships are with imagineNATIVE, the Indigenous Screen Office, and Wapikoni Mobile. The film organization imagineNative will develop programs and activities aimed at teaching Indigenous screenwriters, producers, and directors in the art of film. The Indigenous Screen Office will be sort of a second phase, where writers, producers, directors, and showrunners will be mentored through apprenticeships and mentorships within the film industry. Also Wapikoni Mobile will provide mentoring and coaching for the Indigenous youth of the communities they already serve.
For Netflix Canada, this venture is about finding emerging talent. Stéphane Cardin, Netflix public policy director for Canada told CBC News, “For us it really is a testament to two things: One, that we have a long-term view and commitment to Canada and recognizing the strength of its creative community. We want to help foster some emerging talent. And the second is really the fact that we believe that not just our company and our workforce, but also our service and our content are better and stronger when they reflect the diversity of our membership, and I think that is reflected in all the partnerships that we’ve signed.”
This is a step in the right direction for Indigenous storytellers. Though Indigenous filmmakers have been creating their own movies and short films for some time now. This venture gives emerging Indigenous artists the funding to learn more and mentorship to enhance their film making skills.
What the Future Holds
Merata Mita endured much turmoil and heartbreak to get her films made. She could see media painting an inaccurate picture of her people. Her work has always been about telling the true story of the Māori and their mistreatment based on false representation. She wanted Māori to be able to address their own issues, ways of life and personalities. She wanted the Māori to have a voice and be understood. Merata Mita was way ahead of her time and her vision lives through those she mentored.
There are so many diverse cultures within the First Nations and the Native American tribes. These cultures have so many stories to tell. Stories that Hollywood could never dream up. It’s my hope that Netflix, or another network will invest in the US storytellers next.
I know many filmmakers that have paved their own way into the industry. They are using what they learned along the way to mentor new filmmakers into the business. I honestly think this is just the next step in seeing more mainstream Native films and TV shows. And it’s long overdue.
Tēnā Koe (Maori Thank You) for reading.
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